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“This is for all the haters who thought that maybe I was just here for one or two years. I feel like I’m going to be here for a very long time,” Bieber said, accepting the evening’s first award, favorite pop/rock male artist.
With his second win, he walked to the stage holding hands with his mom. “She’s little, but she’s beautiful,” he said, at a loss for words. “I’m just so blown away right now. Thank you for always believing in me.”
It was one exuberant moment among many at the AMAs, which were celebrating their 40th anniversary with the Nokia Live event in Los Angeles. The landmark show was celebrated throughout the star-studded show, with moments of classic footage of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Beyonce, ‘N Sync and more interspersed with presentations and performances from modern Hollywood stars and music icons.
There were few bigger than Taylor Swift, who picked up the favorite country female award for the fifth year in a row — her 11th AMA overall.
“This is unreal, I want to thank the fans, you guys are the ones who voted on this and you have made this such an amazing couple of weeks for me with Red coming out,” she said, acknowledging her new album’s monster 1.21 million opening week. “I’m really happy right now and it’s all because of you.”
Usher led a night of colorful performances with a high-energy three-song medley, performing “Numb,” “Climax” and “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop” amid an EDM-influenced red-and-blue light show. Carly Rae Jepsen continued the trend, lowering to the stage in a neon phone booth to perform “This Kiss.” Back by choreographed dancers, Jepsen stuck to singing, pointing into the crowd as she hit the bridge. “Alright, sing along if you know it!” she said as the song segued into “Call Me Maybe.”
Several awards were given out before the broadcast: pop/rock female artist went to Katy Perry, while Beyonce won R&B female artist, Shakira took home Latin artist and TobyMac was honored with contemporary inspirational artist. But the night’s focus was on the stage, where U.K. quintet the Wanted delivered a fiery, pyrotechnics-assisted performance of “I Found You.” No Doubt also brought flames to the stage for “Looking Hot,” which opted for a punk black-tie style that shied away from the recently controversial Native American imagery of the song’s video. Kelly Clarkson also delivered one of the night’s big medleys, singing in front of three shadowed “judges” reminiscent of her American Idol beginnings — before the stage opened into a hail of confetti and blinking screens of “Since U Been Gone.”
And Swift returned to the stage herself in a white dress to perform Red single “I Knew You Were Trouble” against an elegant chandelier-filled backdrop that darkened for the song’s heavy dubstep break. She emerged from a cluster of dancers with a Black Swan-style costume stage, switching to a saucier, sparkling red, black and gold outfit. Ke$ha performed “Die Young” with help from a team of six drummers flanking her golden platform — the singer herself joined in, pounding on a tom-tom to bring the song to a climax.
Among the night’s other notable wins were another favorite soul/R&B male trophy for Usher, his third in a row. Luke Bryan earned his first AMA for favorite country male, jogging to the stage with a smile on his face. Linkin Park took home favorite alternative artist, and Nicki Minaj — whose floor-length mermaid-style gown meant she needed a hand getting to the podium — picked up favorite rap/hip-hop album for Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded.
“I would like to thank my beautiful barbz, thank you so much for voting,” she said. “I want to thank God for just this opportunity to do what I do.”
Minaj won her second award of the night for rap/hip-hop artist — making her and Bieber the only artists to pick up two trophies. “Thank you so much for voting your little fingers off,” she said, thanking her label bosses watching at home. “Shout-out to loyalty.”
In perhaps the night’s most acrobatic performance, Pink delivered a conceptual take on “Try” with ballet-inspired choreography that found her facing off in a war-of-the-sexes with a male dancer. The music-packed night saw everyone from Linkin Park to Carrie Underwood bring new songs to the stage, with Minaj debuting her “Freedom” single. In a Lotus medley, Christina Aguilera brought a positive message to her disco-inspired performance as leather-clad dancers roamed the stage.
In contrast to the night’s more explosive performances, Bieber was joined by a guitarist for an acoustic version of “As Long As You Love Me” — the only heat his red pants and sneakers and his rap game, as he rhymed absent guest Big Sean’s verse. But he offered a full-scale set-up for “Beauty and the Beat,” leading a pack of dancers through hip-hop moves. Minaj, trading in her blonde wig for a black one, stepped out from a mock speaker to deliver her guest verse.
Bieber was presented by Jepsen, who won the coveted new artist of the year award — and hugs from the reunited Backstreet Boys, who presented her with the trophy.
“Oh my goodness, thank you so much! to the fans, I am floored, thank you!” she said with on-stage enthusiasm worthy of vintage Swift. “Scooter Braun, Justin Bieber — my family, my friends, my boyfriend. Thank you so, so, so, so much — wow!”
Underwood picked up her seventh overall AMA and fourth in the country album category and also thanked her romantic partner. “I couldn’t love my life anymore than I do right now. Baby, I love you so much,” looking into the crowd for husband Mike Fisher.
In a serious moment in the exuberant night, Brandy remembered the late Houston with a montage of her AMA acceptance speeches and performances. And Dick Clark, the AMA’s late founder, was recalled by Ryan Seacrest, who joined the broadcaster on his New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in his later years. Clark, 82, died of a heart attack earlier this year. According to Seacrest, his vision for the AMAs was simple but ambitious: “Bring the top artists on the planet together on an equal stage, and then let the music speak for itself.” As images form Clark’s career and life played across the stage’s massive screens, Stevie Wonder paid him tribute with a trio of songs including “My Cherie Amour” and “Sir Duke” as Clark’s widow, Karen, watched from the audience.
But the show’s second half belonged to the energy of the dance floor. The night saw a new category, favorite EDM artist, which presenters Kelly Rowland and Elisha Cuthbert explained to viewers. It “stands for electronic dance music,” Cuthbert said, before announcing the award for David Guetta. Guetta was busy touring in Brazil on Sunday night but applauded the AMAs’ creation of the category in a video message. “I am so happy, I am so honored,” he said.
Pitbull was backed by women in illuminated dresses for his performance of “Don’t Stop the Party,” which swerved to a previous decade’s anthem. “Let’s take it back to the ’80s!” he urged the crowd — now equipped with glowsticks — as he and Aguilera riffed briefly on A-Ha’s “Take On Me.” The party continued with Chris Brown, Ludacris and Swizz Beatz, who drew dancers out of the crowd for “Every Day Birthday.” As rally towels swung around him, a shirtless Brown danced his way through the aisles.
But no performance inspired more motion than Psy‘s “Gangnam Style,” the K-Pop hit that’s ruled the Internet in recent months. Among the audience, members of the Wanted and even Jenny McCarthy imitated the song’s signature choreography before a surprise dancer hopped onto Psy’s stage: MC Hammer. The long-absent rapper brought in his own moves as “Gangnam Style” mashed into his ’90s hit “Too Legit to Quit,” closing the show as Clark had intended it: with music heard ’round the world.
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